Let me (it's still Brian writing) get back to Shel and me. I suspect that your image of Shel is still that of a very precocious boy of about ten, eleven or twelve. Well, of course he went through those stages, but by this time (winter 2001-2002) in the story he was an adult of nineteen. He had, of course, aged gradually. Since I was with him most of the time, certainly daily, I didn't really notice the changes. From time to time I'd think back to the day of that first kiss, and I'd realize that there'd been significant changes. But day to day I was unaware of the change.
But he's changed. In two significant ways, and they are, in many senses, in opposite directions. Shel has become big and strong. He stands six foot three, and his constant daily exercising has made him as strong as an ox. I know better than to test my strength against his! At the same time he seems to have grown more graceful. His skating is smooth, light, and as graceful as that of any ballerina, yet it is not a feminine grace–he manages to be hugely strong and masculine as well as graceful. I know that sounds impossible, and I know that you're thinking I'm prejudiced. OK, I'll give you both of those things. I still stand on, "strong, masculine grace." I've asked Dick Spivey and he concurs that those three words best describe Shel on ice.
The fact is, those three qualities were the perfect formula for success as a male figure skater. He was a guy who could dance as a swan–a strong, bold male swan–and still toss off quads as if he were playing a game of hopscotch. Everybody at the Fred thought that the gold medal was his to lose, and most of the sports coverage leading up to the Olympics had Shel's gold as one of the few "sure things" for the United States in Salt Lake City. Dick and I chatted and wondered if all the advance publicity might go to his head and affect his skating or his dedication to practice. As far as we could tell, it didn't affect him at all. Shel went through life in full control. Charlie would come by the rink, watch Shel for a while, and then tell Dick and me that Shel was more like Tim than any other of the COGs. And then he'd point out, "And whomever he is the son of, Jim or Andy, especially Jim, his father is least like Tim. So much for genetics. And so much for environment, as well. He didn't learn his habits from any of his four parents. He's just pure Shel; just like Tim is just pure Tim."
Shel graduated from high school in June of 2000. He decided, and I don't think he sought anybody's opinion on the matter, certainly not mine, that he wouldn't enter UND that fall. He told me, "Brian, I'd like to be able to devote full time to being a student, and I'd like to devote full time to being a figure skater. The only way to do that is to do one after the other, and clearly skating has to come first. For at least the next six years I'm going to be a skater. Then, if we can arrange it financially, I want to spend the next four years as a college student. And I think it would be fun if you were a student with me at the same time. But we'll work that out when the time comes. Right now, I'm a full time skater and you're a full time coach." Those who thought that he shouldn't be quite so dismissive of college–including a couple of his parents–realized that there was no point in discussing the matter. Shel had made up his mind, and that was that. The more I thought about it, I thought he was probably correct.
So we both lived at the Fred. Day in, day out. He never tired of skating. He never tired, period. If he felt a little wobble as he landed a quad, he'd talk to me about it. Then he'd head out onto the ice and do the same jump, but a double. Till he was absolutely certain there was no wobble. Then on to a triple of the same jump, until he was certain there was no wobble. Then to the quad. Again. And again. And again. After each jump he'd come over to Dick and me and ask, "Did you see a wobble? Did you see any other problems?" If he suspected that we were holding back on something he'd threaten to clobber us. "Don't you ever fail to tell me absolutely everything you see in my skating."
Tim came by one afternoon and Shel came over to where Tim was sitting with Dick and me, and asked, "Well, how was that?" Dick started listing about four things that he'd seen wrong with his spin. His knees weren't right; his head turned wrong; his left skate dragged a little as he came out of the spin; his hands were clasped together wrong. I added that he had seemed to have a frown on his face. Shel had responded, "Shit, that's a lot of work to accomplish. I'll be working all evening on that list." And he headed back on the ice.
Tim turned to us and said, "I can't believe that you handed him a list like that. When I work with a diver I stick with one thing at a time."
Dick responded, "You're right. That is the way I like to coach a skater. If you try that with Shel he'll wring your neck. He wants, no he demands, to know every little thing that you see wrong. Every single time."
I added, "I don't see why it doesn't drive him crazy, or make him depressed. But not Shel. He demands to be in control. If he thinks we're holding back he goes into a blue funk. And he knows when we're holding back, because when we give him a list of problems like that he's already aware of most of them. If we've left one off of our list, he'll know it. So we give it to him full bore. And he's right, he'll spend the rest of the afternoon and evening working on that list of five things."
Tim commented, "I thought you were the coach and in full control."
I responded, "You have to coach the personality you're given. If I come in tomorrow and tell him that I'd like him to work on his figures, he'd do it without question. Buyt he doesn't enjoy doing figures."
Dick interrupted, "He hates doing figures, but they're good for him. They bring discipline to his skating. He'd never be able to do that swan ballet if he hadn't been drilled on doing figures."
Tim said, "I thought that figures had been eliminated from competitions."
I said, "They don't televise well. They're boring for audiences. And they're difficult. Many skaters that show well in free skating can't master figures. But Dick's right, it's an important discipline. Shel agrees, but he still doesn't enjoy doing them. But he never argues, never complains when I insist that he work on them. Let's ask him to show off some of his real skill at skating figures."
I asked Shel to do several variations on the figure eight, frontwards, backwards, single skate; I let him pick what he wanted. Then I asked him to do some threes. As he headed out on the ice, Tim asked, "A figure three? How do you do that?"
"It doesn't mean it's shaped like a three. It means three loops instead of the two loops of the figure eight."
Shel started his eights, but soon came over to us and said, "The ice is too cut up, you can't see my skating trails. I'll get the Zamboni to come out and give me a clear patch."
The Fred's routine was for the Zamboni to come out and clean the ice on a schedule. If any skater but Shel had asked for a special patch to be cleaned for him the Fred staff would've laughed. Shel had his clear patch–right in front of where the three of us were sitting–immediately. Tim asked, "How does he get service like that? Are they afraid of his relationship with Fred."
"Oh, no. There isn't anybody on the staff that Shel hasn't befriended, and probably done many favors for. Starting back when he was nine years old, and only acting like he was thirteen or fourteen. And I don't mean he was simply a willing gopher. He solved real problems. John, the guy that just drove the Zamboni for Shel, has a Down's syndrome child. Shel taught him to ice skate. His father had tried. Ham had tried. Several others had tried. The boy really wanted to skate, but he simply could stand up on ice skates. Shel took him in hand, skated him across the ice, and in less than a week he was skating on his own. He still comes by to skate, and Shel skates with him. John would do anything for Shel. Everybody here has some kind of a story like that about Shel. He's amazing."
So were his figure eights! Dick said, "There are still competitions for skating figures, and I've encouraged Shel to compete. But, unless Brian were to tell him to, he says he only has eyes for the Olympics."
Brian said, "I can't justify figures competition as needed for reaching Shel's goals at the Olympics. So figures competition is up to him. And he isn't interested."
Tim said, "I used to drive my coaches nuts in the same way. Good for Shel. He's his own man."
"Is he ever!"
I joined Shel on the ice for most of the evening, but now when we played monkey see, monkey do, it was I that saw and did, following Shel. He liked to push me, but he sensed when he was pushing too far, and he never let me fail. There were a whole host of jumps and spins that he could do that I couldn't. I'm proud to say, however, that our games eventually got me to do a quad axel. I'm still proud to count myself in the tiny company of figure skaters that can claim to have ever landed a quad axel–even though I never did it in competition.
Our skating ended with Shel voicing a request that ended most of our last of the day skating sessions: "Why don't we go home and I'll shove my long thin bone up your horny ass?"
We'd head home, see what was going on around The Lighthouse, usually get a snack, and then head up to our bedroom. I'd then asked Shel, "OK, why don't you shove that long thin bone up my horny ass?"
You know that Shel and I didn't fuck in Kiribati. In fact, it was a week or so after his birthday that we first fucked. The joy of not having to fool around with latex gloves, washcloths, and other things was so great that we didn't feel pushed to move too fast. Then we had the grand unveiling of the pictures in Gangland. The picture of the COGs had us all paired up, engaging in a wide variety of sexual activities. I'm not clear why Sid chose Shel and me for the fucking pose, but he did. There was Shel on top of me, with my legs up over his shoulders. He was clearly shoving in and out, and the picture shows him as far out as possible, so that a couple of inches of his cock shows. You can just feel that it's time for him to shift directions and slam down onto me. The thing about the picture that I really like is that we both look very happy, with sort of half smiles and half laughs. If you look at a lot of pornography of men fucking, you'll see that pain, lust, sometimes even boredom, dominate the pictures. Shel and I were happy and enjoying what we were doing. And, boy, were we doing it?
As we left Gangland the evening of the unveiling of our picture I said to Shel, "I want you to fuck me just like that. And I want it to happen in Gangland."
He said, "I agree. But Gangland's going to be busy in the coming evenings. How about ten o'clock tomorrow morning?"
"It's a date."
"Then no sex tonight. I want to be hot tomorrow."
He was. He fucked me for the first time. Then he asked, "Do you want to fuck me?"
"I will, if you'd like me to. I'd really like a blow job."
"You know what? I'd rather give you a blow job. I really would."
"Do it." He did.
I'll have to admit that we've gotten into a rut. He fucks me, following a wide variety of foreplay. In that regard we aren't in a rut. Then he fucks me hard, aggressively, and with great passion. And joy. He avoids touching my dick, and I don't come. As soon as he's shot his cum up my ass he pulls out and grabs my dick in his mouth and sucks the Hell out of it. I love it. It ends with a kiss, with a lot of me spread around our mouths and faces.
I've thought about it. It's quite consistent with our personalities that Shel would be the top and I the bottom. In our entire sexual relationship he's been the aggressor. That's who he is. I'm very content to be the recipient of his aggression–in all kinds of ways. Let me tell you, he has the perfect cock for his role. I've described it as a long, thin bone, and that's the perfect description. It isn't quite as long as Franklin's or Phil's, but it's quite a bit longer than mine. It is slender, and it slips up my ass with ease. Oh, God, I love it.
So that night, like many nights after our skating, it was quite normal for him to propose shoving his long, thin bone up my horny ass. The evening ended with my explosion in his mouth and our grand kiss. Sometimes we do other things, but not very often.
I had other conversations with Tim about my relationship to Shel. Until he was finally persuaded that I was quite happy and content in the relationship, Tim was concerned that Shel was too much the dominant personality; always running the show. Tim would say something like, "A healthy relationship ought to be between equal partners. That's why I get upset when a man believes that he's the 'head of the household'."
I'd respond, "From my perspective Shel is the 'head of the household.' And he does a damn good job of it. Maybe it's a personality weakness on my part, but I'm very happy to have him run things. He never pushes it. For example, he might ask, 'Shall we go out to dinner tonight?' If I answer either, 'Yes,' or, 'No,' that would settle the matter. I'd be more likely to answer something like, 'It doesn't matter to me.' Then he'd announce that we were going out (or not) and ask me where I wanted to go. If I name a place, that's where we go. If I don't, then he'll tell me where we're going. There's no hemming and hawing, no indecision. If I have an opinion, that settles the matter. If not, then Shel settles the matter. I hear so many couples with the, 'Oh, I don't care, you decide honey'; followed by, 'No you, it's your turn.' Shel and I never have that."
"But what about really important decisions, like when you're going to college; where to go on a vacation?"
"Exactly the same. It's up to me to state an opinion or let Shel decide. I usually defer to him, he decides, and I'm quite happy."
Tim said, "It doesn't make me comfortable. But I guess if you're happy, it works for you."
"It does work for me, Tim."
"But it's just the opposite regarding his skating."
"Exactly. He does exactly what he's told, never argues, never protests, and seldom makes any kind of suggestion. He's put himself completely in my hands, and Dick Spivey's."
"That kind of a personality reversal seems quite unusual."
"I guess it is, but it's pure Shel."
"What about sex?"
"Shel's in charge. Did you think it'd be any other way?"
"No, I guess not. That seems to be Milt and Viv's relationship as well."
"No, I've had that described to me. Viv won't interject anything into the conversation. If Milt asks her what she'd like, she won't answer. Shel invites me into the decision making process and sometimes I express an opinion. Viv never does. She rebukes Milt for even asking. That isn't the relationship I have with Shel. But he's the top and I'm the bottom, and neither of us are interested in reversing those rolls."
Another conversation with Tim went something like this: Tim asked me one day how I ever managed to survive eight years around Shel, in love with Shel, seeing Shel changing clothes, often sleeping with Shel, and refraining from sex with Shel.
I said, "You made it those famous forty months without Charlie."
"I know, but I only had to see him in my dreams or imagination. I didn't see him or have to live with him those forty months."
"Oh, you did see him–two times I think. At the circus when he thought he could hide from you and at his graduation."
"How do you know that?"
"Tim, you have no idea how the stories of Tim and Charlie get told among the Gang–especially to new members. There's sort of an agreed canon of stories about you two, and others of the original eight. We've all heard them."
"Well, as we've always said, there are no secrets in the Gang. But you and Shel are both quite remarkable for sustaining your love of each other from before his tenth birthday until his eighteenth. That must've been quite a night. And at the far ends of the earth of all things."
"You had no idea where you were going, or why?"
"Well, I knew why in the sense of knowing what we were going to do, but I had no idea of how the geography and the timing went together."
"OK, back to the here and now. Is this kid going to get a medal in Salt Lake City?"
"Absolutely. And it's going to be gold, despite your rules."
"Don't let him get his heart set on gold. There's a good reason for my emphasis on just winning a medal rather that a gold medal. Not every shoo-in for a gold medal actually comes home with a gold medal. Some come home with no medal at all. And I think having your heart set on gold increases your chance of actually winning no medal at all."
"Shel and I both understand that. And I think Shel really abides by your rule. But we can't avoid the fact that he does more difficult figures than anyone else, and he performs the harder things that he does with a greater degree of consistency than his nearest competitors. It's hard not to see him winning the gold."
"I understand. I found myself in the same position a number of times. But I also have a number of silver and bronze medals in my collection, and I'm quite proud of them. Charlie will tell you that they were accepted with grace and humility. I hope Shel isn't tested like that, but if he is, I hope that he puts on a performance on the podium, and after, that he and you can be proud of."
"Like you, I hope he isn't tested. But I have faith that he'd stand the test."
"You're a wonderful guy, Brian. You and Shel deserve each other."
Well, Utah involved more that just Shel figure skating. The Fred had other figure skaters and racers who had their eyes on Salt Lake City. However, this winter Olympics would be the second in which professional hockey players were eligible. I supported the idea that professionals shouldn't be excluded from the Olympics. In most of the sports, especially individual sports, this allowed athletes to find a level of support that allowed them to keep focused on their sport and the Olympics. But in team sports, and some individual sports), especially in sports where there are organized, high paying, professional programs (basketball, ice hockey, and tennis come immediately to mind) allowing professionals into the Olympics simply eliminates amateurs. I say let the professional hockey players compete for the Stanley Cup and let the amateurs have the Olympics. However, I'm not the IOC. In any event, the professionalization of Olympic ice hockey meant that no member of the UND hockey team would be involved with the Olympics, probably ever again. That's sad, but that's the way it is.
With one exception, athletes from the Fred would be the only representatives of either of the Dakotas at the Salt Lake City Olympics. The only exception was Don Barcome Jr., of Grand Forks, who was on the U.S. Olympic Curling Team for the first time in 2002. In the course of our stay in Salt Lake City some of the Gang got to know Don. Fred thought about sort of adopting him as part of the Grand Forks contingent, but realized that he couldn't do that without getting involved with the entire curling team, and that was farther afield than he wanted to go.
None of the Fred's skaters that had competed in Nagano would be seeking to compete in Salt Lake City. For the competitors that we would be sending to the Olympic Trials this would be their first Olympic experience. However, as you've already read, the Fred wasn't like the Cave, it was open to the public and the majority of its skaters, including some of the very good ones, weren't involved with the Gang, though, of course, Shel and I knew them at the rink and considered them good friends.
Three, however, were special, and we gradually became very close and invited them to get to know the Gang. All three were very good skaters and would be going to the Olympic Trials and, we hoped–realistically, I think–that they'd make it to Salt Lake City.
Joan Phipps was a graduate of Alpena Community College in Alpena, Michigan, where she'd grown up an avid ice skater. She was a member of the Alpena Speed Skating Club, which had been formed when the new Northern Lights Arena had opened in 1995. Before that most of her skating had been in the winter, but in Northern Michigan decent ice was available for a fairly long winter. Joan had never skated on a long track, but had been intrigued by watching it over the years in the Olympics. When she completed her Associate Degree in 1998 she decided, in her own words, "By God, I wanted to be a long track speed skater. That meant Milwaukee or Grand Forks. The University of North Dakota is a good school; that's where I headed."
Joan was a delight. She was a fast learner on the ice, and a charmer off the ice. Tim fell flat out in love with her one blustery late November day when they met on campus heading to the coffee shop. With everyone else in heavy coats and rushing to get out of the cold wind, both Tim and Joan were wandering along enjoying the sun, which was out in spite of the wind and cold. Tim had asked, "Where's your coat?"
She responded, "Where's yours?"
"Back in my office. I hate coats, but the dignity of the office, you know."
"My goodness. You're President Tim."
"And I believe that you're one of the new skaters at the Fred. Is it Miss Phipps?"
"God no, I can't imagine who that would be. I'm just Joan. I'll admit to Joan Phipps though. How do you ever know my name?"
"I keep track of all Olympic hopefuls on this campus. Shel keeps me up to date about the Fred. Goodness, we've arrived at the coffee shop; shall we go in, or shall we wander around and get some more sun."
"Who's kidding whom, here? We both know it's cold. Let's go inside and enjoy the warmth."
They both laughed and went inside. Tim invited her to sit with him, and asked her what she'd like to drink–expecting her to ask for coffee. "I'm having an orange milk shake. I've found that they make excellent ones here." He went over to the counter and got his large Coke and her milk shake.
He brought the drinks back to the table and said, "These ought to warm us up. They're at least liquid. It's all the hard stuff outside."
Tim found Joan to be as delightful as we all had, but had to bring the conversation to an early close in order to get back to his office for an appointment. Her farewell comment to Tim was, "I can't wait to get back to the dorm this evening and send my daily email to my family. 'I had coffee with the President of the University, and he didn't think my walking around in short sleeves was anything out of the ordinary, since he was similarly dressed'."
Tim left chuckling. The encounter earned Joan a telephone call from Tim with a dinner invitation for Dakota House. Joan responded with, "Oh, my goodness, that would be wonderful. I'm embarrassed to ask this, but it'd be terribly difficult for me to come home to my dormitory and have to tell my roommate that I'd just had dinner at the President's house. I'm simply not into one-upmanship. Is there any way that she might be included?"
Tim responded, "You, my dear, have proven to me that you're the outstanding young woman that I took you to be. What's your roommate's name? I'll call her myself."
He did, and a week later the two of them, along with Shel and me, joined Tim and Charlie for a grand dinner in the big formal dining room. As soon as I realized where we were going to be eating, I knew that Tim was putting on the dog for his two new students. Joan's roommate was Doris Stevens, a very nice young woman, but not nearly as bright and outgoing as Joan. I'm not sure that she ever figured out the reason for her invitation to dine with the President. Not to sell her short, she held her own, was very pleasant, and tried to very subtly flirt with Shel, until he put an end to it by casually commenting on our relationship with each other. Joan, of course, was well aware of our relationship and hadn't been fazed by it. Doris passed that test as well, commenting that she'd been an attendant at a Holy Union for two good friends from high school a year after they all had graduated.
Tim commented, "The world's changing, and for the better. When I first came here as a student in 1965–my goodness, that's more than thirty years ago–we worried about whether Charlie and I would be accepted. Now it's almost routine."
Shel and I walked the two girls home, and then walked back to The Lighthouse. On the way home the little devil said to me, "She's a delight, isn't she? I think I ought to introduce her to Gary."
He did; Gary bit; Joan.... That's for the next episode. Gary gets to tell that story and Charlie reminded me that I'm supposed to tell the story of the Salt Lake City Olympics, and I'd better get on with it.
There were two other skaters besides Joan that had reasonable Olympic hopes. Shelly Morton (I know, it's a unisex name; he's a boy, man, young man, whatever) was a short track speed skater. His times were about the same as Flip's had been, but Shel didn't think he maneuvered on the ice quite as well as Flip–an essential skill with four to six racers tearing around the same short track! Alas, Flip was out in Idaho and Shelly was going to have to learn the ropes by himself–with the aid and support of the excellent coaches at the Fred–the same coaches that had coached Flip. Shelly was from the little town of Bowman in the southwest corner of North Dakota. He'd started skating at a very early age, and had started competitive short track racing at age nine. However, the club in Bowman was very small and had limited practice time on the rink, which was dominated by hockey league practice and games. All of his meets had been in the four state region of western North and South Dakota and eastern Montana and Wyoming. It was very low level competition, but he was a determined skater and made the best of his available opportunities. He graduated from Bowman High School and now he was a freshman at UND, with a major in Physical Education (Coaching).
Sexually, he was a complete stereotype killer. His higher than normal voice and fairly feminine appearance fairly screamed, "Gay." He knew it, and it didn't bother him. But as soon as he got to know you he quickly put you straight with a simple comment like, "I know I match the stereotype, but I'm not gay. Girls are much too much fun." It was easy to believe him, because there was nothing defensive about his comment, simply informative.
Shel had responded to that with, "I know I match the stereotype, but I'm not straight. Boys are too much fun." They hit it off right from the beginning. They loved to race each other around the short track, but Shel made sure that he avoided any collisions. Collisions were for short track racers, not figure skaters.
Finally, there was Fran Howell, a figure skater from Thief River Falls, Minnesota, a town not too far from Grand Forks. She'd been commuting almost every day after school since she was sixteen and could drive herself. It was about a hour's drive over the straightest roads anywhere. She came south a few miles on a fairly straight road with only gentle curves, turned right onto county road 3, which turned into county road 21. These two roads were literally straight as an arrow for thirty-seven miles across northern Minnesota. Then she turned south onto US Route 220 which had not a single curve until you hit East Grand Forks. She skated a couple of hours, ate her supper which she carried with her, did homework for a while, and then skated another two hours. She spent all day Saturday and most of Sunday, going home early enough to do homework. It was a killer schedule, but she seemed to undertake it willingly. Shel had befriended her immediately, because he made it his business to befriend all of the skaters–at least the ones that he thought had a chance to make it to the top. I note that wasn't him being snooty, but the reality that he had limited time and the Fred had hundreds of skaters at all levels. Fran had worked hard at her skating since she was a little girl, and by sixteen when she was able to get to, and therefore join, the Fred she was quite good. Shel insisted that she needed to soften her practice schedule to allow some social time with the other skaters, and soon he often had her eating dinner at The Lighthouse. She often stayed over Friday and/or Saturday nights at The Lighthouse to save the two-hour round trip to Thief River Falls.
She reported that she was the oldest of three girls, that her parents both worked, and getting to the Fred before she could drive herself was simply impossible. Now, though her parents missed her at home, they were supportive of her skating ambitions and her time commitment to achieve them. The more Shel heard her story and listened to her ambitions, the more he was eager to help. And, of course, he sucked me into the bargain. With Dick Spivey's enthusiastic support, I joined him as sort of her co-coach. That meant that she skated a lot with Shel, and he encouraged her to play monkey see, monkey do with him.
I'm not sure that I really understand the affect that Shel has on other skaters, at least ones that he takes under his wing and who come under his spell. Of course, he's a good skater–very likely the best in the world, but we wouldn't know that until the Olympics, but somehow it seems to rub off of Shel. Skaters just seem to sense that if Shel can do something so can they. I know that I'd never have been able to perform a quad axel without Shel's enthusiastic support. He started playing monkey do with me and I ended up playing it with him!
Regardless, Fran was getting very good as the Olympics approached. Dick and Shel worked hard with her to choreograph a beautiful long program. I say that they worked with her, but that really isn't true. They worked it all out and told her what she was going to do. A lot of skaters would've resented their overbearing ways, but Fran was smart enough to take the advise of the world's best skater and, in Shel's opinion, the world's best coach without question. On the other hand, Shel and Dick didn't take each other's advice at all. Seeing the two of them work on her choreography was a riot. Jim and Big Paul never went at it in the ring like Shel and Dick argued. But it was all to the good of the final program, which we all thought was both spectacular and showed off Fran's skills in the best possible light.
November of 2001 finally arrived, and with it the Olympic Figure Skating and Racing Trials–both were scheduled in the wonderful facilities of the Fred, one right after the other. The figure skaters were first. Fran was a relative unknown at the national level, but she'd earned her invitation to the Trials in a number of regional and two national events in which she'd placed as high as third. There was one other women figure skater from the Fred, Mary Kranston, but she knew from the beginning that she didn't have a shot at one of the three places on the Olympic team–she was thrilled to be able to say that she'd competed in the Trials. Fran placed fifth after her short program, and Shel was sure that she had a shot at one of the team places.
Fran had often stayed at The Lighthouse, and when the time came for the Trials we assured her that we could find room for her the entire time. There wasn't an extra bedroom at The Lighthouse, but we easily accommodated her. For that group squeezing together was almost routine, and it was normal to have one person or a couple up in the aerie sleeping with the kids.
Charlie here. The Gang's gotten so large that I can hardly keep them straight. You, dear reader, can be expected to scratch your head and ask what kids? How many? How old? Answer: At the time of the Trials in November, 2001, one two-year old and three one-year olds: Liam (the two-year old), son of Willie and Sally; Anton, son of Hardie and Connie; Bobbie, son of Willie and Sally; Ginnie, daughter of Mary and Nels. Just so you can keep track of the whole crew of Lighthouse Keepers, there was also Nick and Evan as well and Shel and Brian. Oh, yes, Connie was pregnant, ready to pop, and in fact she did pop right after the trials, giving the Gang little May Hassett, born November 18, 2001. Now, back to Brian.
Fran was no dummy; she quickly realized that space wasn't always made for her at The Lighthouse by one couple or another sleeping in the aerie. Often a room was emptied by its occupants sharing with another couple. She and Shel had become pretty good friends, so she felt comfortable asking him about sleeping arrangements at The Lighthouse. Shel didn't believe in secrets, so he simply responded that people pretty much slept with whom they pleased, but that on most nights you'd find people sleeping with their spouses or partners, whichever term applied.
"Shel, have you slept with most of the others at The Lighthouse."
"No, not most. All."
"Where does that leave me?"
"At age sixteen and still in high school? Sleeping alone in whatever room is made available for you. You will find that the rules about under eighteen are rigid in The Lighthouse and among almost all of the people that you're going to meet here in Grand Forks."
"What about Shelly? He's a new skater here like me and just about my age."
"Ah, Shelly. Have you got eyes for Shelly?"
"He's hinted that he has eyes for me."
"You don't need my permission to have a good time with Shelly."
"Shel, I may not need your permission, but having your blessing is important."
"Why or earth...?"
"Shel, I don't think you realize how important you are in the skating program here. The skaters idolize you. The coaches defer to you. Fred and Andy, who're supposed to be the big bosses here, always want to know what you think before any decision is made. That isn't missed by the rest of us skaters. The stories about you are legion, and if only half of them are true you're a pretty spectacular guy. Nobody wants to get on your wrong side. I don't want your permission to date Shelly, but if you suggested that it wasn't a good idea, I'd look elsewhere."
"My God, I had no idea that I had that kind of influence."
"That's bull, Shel. You aren't so dumb as to not be aware of your own power. But I've never seen you abuse it, and none of the stories about you are about your abusing your power."
"Just what stories about me have you heard?"
"Well, everyone knows you captured Brian's heart at age nine. The story of your eighteenth birthday is widely known."
"I don't have much of a private life, do I?"
"Well, there's a lot of speculation about your sex life with Brian, and when it started."
"Speculation is about all there's going to be in that area."
"There are stories about a couple of showdowns with school authorities."
"Ah, they seem to think that school's more important than ice skating."
"It is, Shel, at least for most people."
"As you and a couple of school principals have learned, it isn't for me."
"You are completely outrageous."
"I'll take that as a compliment. But save your flattery for Shelly. He's a great guy, and a fantastic skater. It's scary sailing around an ice rink with him."
"The whole short track business is scary. That's why I skate on the long track, where I always have a lane to myself."
"Hell, I get a whole rink to myself, and I don't have any lines to contain me."
"I love to watch you skate, Shel. What does it feel like to be able to do things on ice skates that no one else in the world can do?"
"We won't know whether that's true until the Olympics. Skating is a thrill. Sailing off the ice into Brian's arms is a thrill. I know the Olympics are going to be a thrill. I've been waiting a long time for them. And, yes, getting a medal hung around my neck will be a thrill, if it happens."
"You mean having a gold medal hung around your neck."
"No, a medal. If you've been around Tim very long you know that it isn't acceptable to talk about the color of the medal. I will be very proud of any medal, bronze, silver, or gold."
"Do you really mean that, Shel? Could you really come home from Salt Lake City with the bronze medal and be happy?"
"Brian would hug me just as hard, maybe harder, if I won the bronze. That's the important thing. Hell, I can't pretend that I wouldn't rather have a gold medal. But years from now Brian's love and Tim's respect are going to be much more important than any medal. Talk to the Olympians at The Lighthouse, and see what they tell you."
"I know that group has quite an Olympic history, but they don't talk about it much. Which of them have won medals?"
"All except Sally, who never aspired to be an athlete. I think the rest share a total of sixteen medals, of which Willie has seven. I'm in the wrong sport, I can only win one medal every four years. Willie could get two, and then when synchronized diving came in he got three. You and Shelly can get multiple medals for different distances. But it's the swimmers and gymnasts that can really rack them up. Look at Mark Spitz. And there's another kid coming along that could someday take the medal count away from Tim."
"Michael Phelps. He raced the butterfly at age 15 in Sydney; came in fifth. He's since broken a butterfly world record. We'll see more of him."
"Shel, talk to me about love and support. So much is made of that here at the Fred, and when I talk to other athletes who aren't skaters they say the same thing."
"It's Tim's mantra."
"How come Tim is always the center of the conversation about sports here?"
"Well, to start with he's a three-sport Olympian, with gold–yes, I'll name the color–in all three sports. He's the President of the University, and the complete local hero. But much more important, he and his partner, Charlie, are the key figures in a group called the Gang. People don't talk a lot about the Gang, but they feel its influence all over the place. And they back the idea of love and support with real love and real support all the time."
"You're part of the Gang, aren't you?"
"I grew up a child of the Gang, but I didn't become a member until I was eighteen. I'm as proud of that as I'll ever be of any Olympic medal."
"Are all of the Gang members Olympians?"
"Oh, no. They aren't all stars and huge successes either. But they're all wonderful people. As time goes on, you'll get to know them."
"Back to love and support. There's a sexual element to that, isn't there?"
"There doesn't have to be. Love can be expressed many ways. Sexuality is only one way. But knowing you're loved, unconditionally, as you go into a competition, Olympic level or not, is really important. You stay around the Fred, and The Lighthouse, and you'll see what I mean."
"In many ways, Shel, I already have."
I could take you through the details of the Olympic Trials, but they weren't special. There were no close calls. Shel, Joan, Shelly, and Fran all qualified in their events. Joan qualified at two distances, 1,500 meters and 5,000 meters. Shelly qualified at two distances, 500 meters, 1,500 meters, and the 5,000 meter relay. For one skating club to have captured four spots on the U.S. Winter Olympic Team was remarkable; that the Fred had done it four Olympiads in a row was a staggering feat, and not unnoticed–to the great glee of Ham, Fred, and Tim–by the media. When Tim was asked about it he simply said, "Yes, and expect us back in Turin four years from now."
There is an upside and a downside to having the Olympics in the United States. It gives the American athletes a "homefield" advantage, and it makes travel reasonable for their friends and families. The big downside is that you don't get to visit an exotic foreign land. With Fred's seemingly bottomless pocketbook, the lowered costs didn't mean much to the Gang, and for that matter they didn't seem to mean much to Fred either. Regardless, Salt Lake City would be our host, and it would be our home for about three weeks in February, 2002. I sat at the Opening Ceremony with Tim and Charlie on one side of me and Fred and Marty on the other. I think they put me in the middle of them because they felt sorry for me. This would be my first Winter Olympics as a spectator, and they knew that I would've loved to be marching with the athletes, holding hands with Shel. But I couldn't have held hands with Shel because Shel was carrying the American flag. Yes, I know, if I'd been there he would've done exactly what Tim did in Mexico City, refused the honor of carrying the flag for the greater honor of marching with his partner, but Shel had no such dilemma. I don't know how Shel managed to capture that honor, but, trust me, it wasn't an accident, and it wasn't suddenly thrust upon him. Things didn't randomly happen to Shel; he lived in Einstein's orderly universe in which neither God nor Shel rolled dice. Shelly and Fran walked in together holding hands–things seemed to be going well for them as athletes and friends. Joan walked in with several of the women skaters; as she passed the section where she knew that most of the Gang was seated she waved and threw a kiss. Gary was certain that it was intended for him, and I'm quite sure that he was correct.
President George Bush sat with the American athletes and opened the games from that position, a major break with tradition for which he got both praise and criticism. This isn't the place to discuss presidential politics, but President Bush (II) got high marks from the North Dakota athletes for his actions in Salt Lake City. One young athlete got out his cell phone and called his mother to say that he was sitting very near the president. When she seemed not to believe him, President Bush signaled the young man to hand him the phone. They boy's mother found herself talking to the President of the United States and being assured that her son was well and having a good time at the Opening Ceremony.
Author's Note: Substantial liberties have been taken in describing this scene, but it is based on a real incident.
Shel led the pack after his short program, and the comments from just about everyone reflected awe, surprise, and shock at his performance level. There was general agreement that it was the best skating that'd ever been seen at an Olympic Games, and perhaps anywhere. The crush to try to get tickets for the night of the long program was unbelievable. Fred, of course, had had tickets from the very beginning of sales, and for each member of his huge party. Since the party that actually came to Salt Lake City was about eight smaller than he'd planned for, he had eight extra tickets. They were given out at random to people he met the day before and who had impressed him as being kind or deserving. They were given in an envelope that said, on the outside, "With kind regards from Fred's Sports." I'm sure that he made customers for life. Of course, since it was getting difficult to get sporting goods in America without shopping at Fred's Sports, most of these recipients were probably already Fred's customers!
The long program was scheduled for two days after the short program. On the intervening Shel and I had lunch and dinner together at the buffet that Fred was offering in the hotel where we were all staying. We'd already talked about where he'd spend the night before his final performance: in the Olympic Village with Shelly, his roommate. He, we, would follow the rule that Tim had established from the very beginning: Olympians belong with other Olympians in the Olympic Village. Of course, Tim and Charlie had both been Olympians. But Tim followed that rule in Olympiads when Charlie wasn't competing. In the afternoon of the day between his programs Shel came with me to my hotel room and told me to fuck him. Remember, our usual pattern was the other way around, but he was clear that he wanted to be fucked, and fucked he was. Then he wouldn't let me suck him or give him an orgasm. "Not today, Brian. That's for Shelly tonight."
That night, the big night before Shel's long program came, Shel and Shelly went to bed early. For once in his life Shel wasn't in control. Shelly, clearly intending to be in charge, told Shel, "It's your night. I know from Brian that what you'd really like is to shove your long, thin bone up my horny ass. Do it."
"Did Brian tell you that; of course he did, there's nowhere else you could've heard it. He shouldn't have told you that."
"I had to work hard to worm it out of him. But I told him I wanted the truth, that I needed it to give you love and support, and I wanted to know just what your favorite sex was. It took time, but I got it. And I'm right, aren't I?"
"Yes, you are. But you're important, too. And you're a little new to gay sex for that."
"Bullshit. I'm not a little baby. I've never had a dick up my ass, but I'm ready." He laid down on his back, thrust his feet in the air and said, "Shove."
Shel shoved. He told me later that it was the second best fuck he'd ever had, the first with me being the sole exception. He followed it as I nearly always did with him: with a suck and a kiss, and Shelly tasted his cum for the first time in his life. They slept wrapped in each other's arms.
The next day Shel turned in the performance of a lifetime. I've already described the program. There was no one else on earth that could do the quads that he could do, and the only hope for his nearest rivals was his falling or missing his jumps or spins. He tackled them so effortlessly that very soon into the program people forgot just how difficult his moves were, and watched for the pure pleasure and artistry of the performance. By the last quad nobody even held their breath wondering if he'd make it. He just did, and you knew he would.
Dick Spivey, his coach, sat riveted to his seat during the performance; he looked like he couldn't believe what he was seeing. As his coach of record he sat in the box with Shel as they waited for his anticlimactic score. It was all sixes, except for one, but that was the low score and was eliminated. Interestingly enough, it was the last score of six ever awarded in Olympic figure skating, because–as a result of a judging scandal in the pairs event–a new scoring system was in place for the Turin Olympics. I think Shel's success meant more to Dick Spivey than it did to Shel. In the world of figure skating coaching, Dick was at the pinnacle: top coach of the top skater in the top club in the world. Shel, like Tim, Hal, and all other Gang members before and since, never suggested that his coach wasn't deserving of full credit, and he went out of his way to say so. He credited me as well, but as a fellow skater, example and inspiration, more than as a coach–which was exactly what I wanted.
It wasn't public, but he also credited Shelly. And Shel's success meant a lot to Shelly, because he had learned that giving love and support was just as important as getting love and support. Shel had been right, Shelly was a little too new to gay sex to enjoy having Shel's long, thin bone shoved up his horny ass. But giving himself to Shel was, he told us later, worth much more, several times over.
When, after his program, I finally got to Shel and hugged him tight, he whispered, "I want that long bone tonight, and the follow-through–before I go to the Village with Shelly. I think I've earned it."
Indeed he had.
There were three others from the Fred–Shelly as well as Fran and Joan–competing in Salt Lake City. However, in their cases the trip to, and competition at, Salt Lake City was both the culmination of a grueling practice regime and of a delightful romance. Those stories deserve their own episode, and a narrator closer to the story. Gary, take it from here.
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